December 29, 2009: New rules clarify what the US government considers classified information

President Obama issues “Executive Order 13526: Classified National Security Information,” which updates a previous 1995 directive. The order clearly defines what the different levels of government classification are: “top secret,” “secret,” and “confidential.” It also states that: “The unauthorized disclosure of foreign government information is presumed to cause damage to the national security.” It further lists what information should be considered classified, and that list includes “foreign government information” and ‘foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” (White House, 12/29/2009)

2011: A “top secret” Clinton email contains intelligence from CIA sources and US spy satellites

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency logo. (Credit: public domain)

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency logo. (Credit: public domain)

Very little is known about Clinton’s 22 emails that are later deemed “top secret,” since all details about them have remained classified. However, it is known that one of them is sent sometime this year. A few details about just this one email are known because it will be included in a random selection of 40 emails that will get reviewed by State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in 2015.

After Linick decides the email should be top secret, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will perform a second review and confirm that the email should be top secret. That indicates the email contains information obtained from both CIA sources and US spy satellites. (The New York Times, 9/7/2015) (The New York Times, 2/29/2016)

After June 2011 to Late 2012: Clinton and other State Department officials sometimes discuss proposed drone strikes in Pakistan in unsecured emails.

A rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, to condemn US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, on October 28, 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

A rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, to condemn US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, on October 28, 2011. (Credit: The Associated Press)

According to a June 2016 Wall Street Journal article, there are a series of Clinton emails in these two years regarding the US drone program in Pakistan. Starting roughly around June 2011, the State Department is given the right to approve or disapprove of the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan as part of the US government’s attempt to mollify Pakistan’s concerns so they will continue their secret support of the program.

However, this creates a communication problem, because advanced warning of strikes varies from several days to as little as half an hour. According to the Journal, “Under strict US classification rules, US officials have been barred from discussing strikes publicly and even privately outside of secure communications systems.”

As a result, US intelligence officials want State officials to use a very secure system to discuss the strikes, called JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Community Systems). But few State officials have access to JWICS, even in Washington, DC, so they use another secure system commonly known as the “high side” (SIPR or, Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).

However, this can be slow as well as difficult to access outside of normal work hours. As a result, according to the Journal, on about a half-dozen different occasions, State officials use the “low side,” which means unsecure computers, such as emailing from a smart phone. This is often said to take place at night, or on the weekend or holiday, or when people are traveling, or when a proposed drone strike is imminent. It is not clear why secure phone lines are not used instead.

The emails are usually vaguely worded so they don’t mention the “CIA,” “drones,” or details about the militant targets, unnamed officials will later claim. These emails sometimes are informal discussions that take place in addition to more formal notifications done through secure communications. In some cases, these emails about specific drone strikes will later be deemed “top secret,” making up many of Clinton’s reported 22 top secret emails.

According to the Journal, unnamed US officials will later say that there “is no evidence Pakistani intelligence officials intercepted any of the low side State Department emails or used them to protect militants.” (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016)

September 18, 2012—February 2013: A nuclear energy whistleblower is targeted for allegedly having classified information on a computer.

Lawrence Criscione (Credit: Michael Weaver / McClatchy)

Lawrence Criscione (Credit: Michael Weaver / McClatchy)

On September 18, 2012,  NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] engineer Lawrence Criscione sends a long letter to NRC chair Allison Macfarlane about dangerous problems at the Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina. He shares the letter with 13 members of Congress.

One day later, the NRC’s inspector general begins investigating if he illegally made information marked “For Official Use Only” public. Another government agency soon rules that such information is an “unofficial administrative marking that has no legal import.”

But in February 2013, the inspector general nevertheless asks the Justice Department to charge him with misusing his government computer to transmit sensitive information. Several days later, the department decides not to prosecute him. But it takes another 13 months before he is formally cleared.

Speaking in 2015, Criscione believes he was unfairly targeted to discourage other whistleblowers. Referring to Clinton’s email scandal, he says, “If a career civil servant had a server with ‘top secret’ information in his basement, he would without a doubt do time” in prison. (McClatchy Newspapers, 9/29/2015)

November 2013 and December 2014: Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall and his law partner get security clearances, but they probably aren’t valid for the Clinton emails he possesses.

Katherine Turner (Credit: Williams & Connolly)

Katherine Turner (Credit: Williams & Connolly)

Kendall gets a “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information” (TS/SCI) security clearance from the Justice Department in November 2013. He and his Williams & Connolly law partner Katherine Turner also get a “top secret” clearance from the State Department in December 2014. This is so Kendall can review information related to the House Benghazi Committee’s on-going investigation.

At some point in late 2014, Kendall, Cheryl Mills (Clinton’s chief of staff), and Heather Samuelson (another lawyer) read and sort through all of Clinton’s over 60,000 emails from Clinton’s time as secretary of state. At least 22 of these will later be determined to have contained “top secret” information. Kendall then keeps a copy of over 30,000 of Clinton’s emails, including the 22 top secret ones, in a safe in the office he shares with Turner.

Only in July 2015 will government security officials give him first one safe and then a second more secure safe to hold the thumb drive containing Clinton’s emails, before Kendall gives up the thumb drive in August 2015.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R) will later suggest, “Neither Mr. Kendall nor Ms. Turner have a security clearance at a sufficient level to be a custodian of TS/SCI material. Thus, it appears Secretary Clinton sent TS/SCI material to unauthorized persons.” Politico will later point out, “Clearances, especially Top Secret ones, are normally granted in connection with specific matters and do not entitle recipients to all information classified at that level…” (Politico, 8/25/2015) 

Furthermore, Clinton’s emails are handed over to the State Department on December 5, 2014, making it likely that at least some of the time-consuming reading and sorting of 60,000 emails took place prior to the security clearances that were given in November 2014. (The Washington Post, 3/10/2015) 

John Schindler, a former NSA counterintelligence official, will later comment, “TS/SCI information must always be placed in a Secure Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), a special, purpose-built room designed to protect against physical and electronic intrusion. A full-blown SCIF surely Kendall did not possess. […] Anything less is a clear violation of Federal law. Hillary has placed herself and her attorney in a precarious position here.” (John Schindler, 8/26/2015)

Additionally, it is unknown if Mills and Samuelson, who read and sorted all of Clinton’s emails with Kendall, had the security clearances to do so.

March 2015: A State Department official gives Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall written permission to retain copies of the emails Clinton turned over in December 2014.

The walls, floor, ceiling, and door of a SCIF room are made out of solid metal before an outer facade that looks like a normal room is added. (Credit: scifsolutions.com)

The walls, floor, ceiling, and door of a SCIF room are made out of solid metal before an outer facade that looks like a normal room is added. (Credit: scifsolutions.com)

However, that official, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, says that decision might be revisited if it is determined that the emails contained classified information. It will later be determined that some of Clinton’s emails contained “top secret” information, and all such information needs to be kept in a special, purpose-built room called a Secure Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), which Kendall does not have. Even with permission from Kennedy, Kendall would still be in violation of federal law for having top secret information outside a SCIF. (Politico, 8/25/2015) (John Schindler, 8/26/2015)

June 24, 2015—August 6, 2015: Clinton’s emails are not properly secured with her lawyer.

The location of Williams & Connolly LLP offices, in Washington, DC. (Credit: Google Earth)

The location of Williams & Connolly LLP offices, in Washington, DC. (Credit: Google Earth)

On June 24, 2015, Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough learns in a letter written by Clinton’s personal lawyer David Kendall that copies of Clinton’s emails are being kept on a thumb drive in a safe in Kendall’s Washington, DC, office. This concerns McCullough, since those emails may still contain highly classified information.

The next day, McCullough calls an FBI official and has that person work with the State Department to give Kendall a government-issued safe to store the thumb drive instead. (The Washington Post, 8/14/2015

The safe is installed in the office Kendall shares with his Williams & Connolly law partner Katherine Turner on July 6. Kendall and Turner had both recently gotten security clearances. (Politico, 8/25/2015) 

However, concerns soon arise that some of Clinton’s emails may contain “top secret” classified material, and even the new safe may not be secure enough. Additionally, the security clearances of Kendall and Turner may not be high enough to allow them to read or possess top secret information. Further security arrangements are made, although it’s not clear what those are.

Kendall finally turns the thumb drive over to the FBI on August 6, ending the problem. (Politico, 9/17/2015)

July 24, 2015: Clinton’s account conflicts with the account of two inspectors general.

Responding to news that several “top secret” documents were found among Clinton’s emails, her campaign says that any government secrets found on the server had been classified after the fact. But the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough write in a joint statement that the information they found was classified when it was sent and remains so now. (The Washington Post, 7/24/2015)

July 25, 2015: Clinton says, “I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received.”

This is a shift from previous statements where she claimed her emails didn’t contain any classified material at all. (The Washington Post, 8/14/2015) Clinton also says that very few issues have emerged in her publicly released emails so far. “We’re talking about four or fewer.” However, the Wall Street Journal notes, “The inspector general has reviewed only about 40 of Mrs. Clinton’s emails, though, suggesting that more secret or top-secret information could be found in the thousands… that remain.” (The Wall Street Journal, 7/25/2015)

August 14, 2015: The head of the US government’s National Archives says Clinton should have recognized classified information and shouldn’t have used a private server.

John Fitzpatrick (Credit: Mike Morones / The Federal Times)

John Fitzpatrick (Credit: Mike Morones / The Federal Times)

John Fitzpatrick, who heads the Information Security Oversight Office in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), says that government agencies train officials with security clearances to spot sensitive material and then to look up the proper classifications, such as “confidential,” “secret” or “top secret.”

“If you write an email, you are expected to distinguish the classified from the unclassified. If you say ‘the CIA reports’ something—writing that sentence should set off alarm bells.” However, Fitzpatrick says that issue is somewhat academic given that Clinton had all her emails on a private server. “The rules require conducting any official business on an official system. There are many reasons for that—including assuring the security of the information, regardless of its classification. There is no argument to have those conversations in a private email.” (The Washington Post, 8/14/2015)

August 23, 2015: One of Clinton’s former security managers cannot believe Clinton didn’t recognize “top secret” information in her emails.

Colonel Larry Mrozinski (Credit: Twitter)

Colonel Larry Mrozinski (Credit: Twitter)

Former Army Colonel Larry Mrozinski disagrees with a recent statement by Clinton in which she claimed, “I did not receive any material marked or designated classified, which is the way you know whether something is [classified].” He says, “That’s total BS.” Mrozinski was a senior military adviser and security manager in the State Department under both Condoleezza Rice and Clinton.

Referring to media reports that at least some of Clinton’s emails were deemed TS/SCI, or “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information,” he says, “TS/SCI is very serious and specific information that jumps out at you and screams ‘classified.’ […] It’s hard to imagine that in her position she would fail to recognize the obvious,” such as the keywords and phrases commonly used only in those emails, as well as its sourcing. “This is a serious breach of national security, and a clear violation of the law. […] You are strictly forbidden to discuss TS/SCI of any kind outside a SCIF [a highly secure reading room], [yet] she was viewing and handling it in direct violation of the law and possibly exposing it to our enemies. Anybody else would have already lost their security clearance and be subjected to an espionage investigation. But apparently a different standard exists for Mrs. Clinton.” (The New York Post, 8/23/2015)

September 22, 2015: Clinton’s emails were improperly secured up until August 2015.

After it became clear by May 2015 that some of Clinton’s emails contained classified information, the security of the email copies possessed by Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall became an issue. In July 2015, State Department officials installed a special safe in Kendall’s office to store them.
However, on this day, Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield writes to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R) that “while the safe was suitable for up to (top secret) information, it was not approved for TS/SCI material.” “TS/SCI” stands for “top secret, sensitive compartmented information.” Top secret information and above, such as TS/SCI, must be kept in a specially built secure room known as a SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility]. Frifield argues that no one in the department knew Clinton’s emails contained such highly classified information.
The issue was resolved in August 2015 when the FBI took away Kendall’s copies of the emails. (The Associated Press, 9/28/2015)

November 18, 2015: The person who sorted Clinton’s emails apparently fails to answer whether she had the security clearance to do so.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley (Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley (Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press)

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R) sends a letter to former Clinton aide and lawyer Heather Samuelson. In late 2014, Samuelson led the sorting process through Clinton’s 62,000 emails to determine which ones to turn over to The State Department and which ones to delete. She also worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and then was a senior adviser to Clinton in the State Department.

Grassley asks if Samuelson had the security clearance necessary to handle Clinton’s emails, some of which were later deemed to contain “top secret” intelligence. He writes, “It is imperative to understand your background in determining what is and what is not a federal record, since you apparently played a major role in assisting Secretary Clinton in making a decision as to which emails to delete.”

A week later, Politico will try to contact Samuelson and the Clinton campaign about Grassley’s questions but got no response. After that there will be no news reports indicating if Grassley ever gets a reply. Earlier in 2015, Samuelson moved from Washington to New York with plans to work in Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters there. But she never started the job, due to the controversy over her role in sorting Clinton’s emails. (Politico, 11/23/2015)

January 19, 2016: Some of Clinton’s emails are too highly classified for an inspector general to read.

In the wake of media reports that Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough discovered some of Clinton’s emails contained above top secret (or “top secret / special access program”) intelligence, an unnamed US intelligence official tells NBC News “that the special access program in question was so sensitive that McCullough and some of his aides had to receive clearance to be read in on it…” (NBC News, 1/19/2016)

January 20, 2016: Clinton inaccurately claims “top secret” emails were regarding a published news article.

On January 19, 2016, it was reported that some of Clinton’s emails contained “top secret” and even above “top secret” information. One day later, Clinton says “the best we can determine” is that the emails were a forward of a New York Times article on a classified drone program and that they probably were classified retroactively. “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.” (NPR, 1/20/2016) 

For months afterwards, very little is known about these emails, so it is difficult to challenge her claim. But in June 2016, the Wall Street Journal will report that in 2011, the State Department was allowed to approve or disapprove planned drone strikes, and most of Clinton’s 22 “top secret” or above “top secret” emails related to those discussions. (The Wall Street Journal, 6/9/2016)

January 20, 2016: A former CIA official says Clinton’s top secret emails “absolutely, without question” could have gotten people killed.

Charles Faddis (Credit: Pro Publica)

Charles Faddis (Credit: Pro Publica)

In a Fox News interview, former CIA operations officer Charles Faddis explains how ‘top secret” and especially SAP or “special access program” intelligence is kept separate from all other intelligence: “There is zero ambiguity here. None. Hard copy, electronic, it is clearly marked. If it’s electronic, you’re probably accessing it in a completely separate channel. So not all one stream where everything is mixed together.”

He adds that “the reason this stuff is in this channel is because it’s going to do incredible damage to US national security if it gets out in the open.”

Asked if a leak of the top secret intelligence sent to Clinton’s private email would cost lives, he replies, “Absolutely, without question.”

And when asked what would have happened if he had sent such information to an unsecure email account, he replies, “My career’s over, I lose my clearance, I lose my job, and then I go to prison, probably for a very long time.” (Fox News, 1/20/2016)

January 20, 2016: A Clinton spokesperson suggests an Obama appointed inspector general is coordinating against Clinton.

In the wake of a new revelation that some of Clinton’s private emails discussed top secret “special access programs,” Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon suggests that Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough and Congressional Republicans have coordinated against Clinton. This claim comes after the contents of a letter McCullough sent to Congress were leaked to the media.

Fallon says, “I think that Republicans are continuing to try to trumpet up and resurface these allegations for the purposes of hurting her campaign.” After a reporter points out that McCullough isn’t a Republican, Fallon replies, “Actually, I think this was a very coordinated leak yesterday. Because two months ago, there was a political report that directly challenged the finding of this inspector general, and I don’t think he liked that very much. So I think that he put two Republican senators up to sending him a letter so that he would have an excuse to resurface the same allegations he made back in the summer that have been discredited.” (Politico, 1/20/2016

Fallon backtracks two days later, admitting he doesn’t know whether McCullough leaked the letter, but suggests he still bears responsibility for the fact it was leaked. McCullough was appointed by President Obama in 2011 and unanimously approved by the Senate. (CNN, 1/22/2016)

January 21, 2016: Clinton denies news reports that she received top secret information in her emails.

Clinton poses with supporters during a rally on January 21, 2016, in Vinton, Iowa. (Jae C. Hong / The Association Press)

Clinton poses with supporters during a rally on January 21, 2016, in Vinton, Iowa. (Jae C. Hong / The Association Press)

While greeting potential voters on the campaign trail in Iowa, Clinton is asked by a private citizen about her email scandal: “How do you plan to sidestep the reality that you are sending secure, SAP [special access program] emails on your private, unsecured server?”

Clinton replies, “You know what, it’s not true. It’s not true. I never sent or received—”

The citizen interrupts to ask, “You never received top secret information on your private server?”

Clinton responds, “No, no—I did not.” (Politico, 1/21/2016) 

Recent news reports said that Clinton had received emails containing “top secret” information, including information about above top secret/special access programs. (The New York Times, 1/19/2016)

January 29, 2016: 22 emails retroactively deemed “top secret” had been sent through Clinton’s private server.

This is revealed by the State Department. However, the department will not make public any part of the 22 emails, not even the years they were sent or who sent them, because they contain such highly classified information. It is believed the 22 emails occurred in seven different email chains. (The New York Times, 1/29/2016) The US government defines “top secret” as “information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016) 

A Clinton spokesperson claims that none of those emails originated with Clinton. (The Washington Post, 3/27/2016)

January 30, 2016: Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey explains how classified information is kept separate.

This photo of a secret government facility shows how information of different classification levels reside on different systems on different computers, to prevent cross over. (Credit: Director of National Intelligence and Special Security Office)

This photo of a secret government facility shows how information of different classification levels reside on different systems on different computers, to prevent cross over. (Credit: Director of National Intelligence and Special Security Office)

Mukasey is asked if classified markings on Clinton’s “top secret” emails would have been removed before being emailed to Clinton. He replies, “Well, the documents originated someplace. They didn’t drop in from Mars. The person who originated them necessarily put classified markings on them… Now how did the markings get off? […] [There] is very particular language relating to the fact that there are three communication systems within the government. Non-secure, SIPR [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network or SIPRNet] or secure, and the highest, which is JWICS [Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System]. The information from SIPR and from JWICS cannot move on the low end system, and if you put anything on there that’s got those markings on it, it essentially sets off an alarm that alerts people involved with security.”

He concludes, “[I]f she has signals intelligence or information from a human source that is obviously confidential and secret and relates to intelligence activities of the United States abroad, she’d have to have been a low grade moron in order to not know that it’s classified.” (CNN, 1/30/2016)

January 30, 2016: It is revealed that four emails from Sid Blumenthal to Clinton have been entirely redacted.

This is notable because at the time Clinton is secretary of state, Blumenthal is a private citizen (and journalist and Clinton Foundation employee) with no government security clearance at the time. Dozens of other Blumenthal emails have been partly redacted, but here are the four fully redacted ones, with only the subject headings known:

  • June 23, 2009, titled “N. Ireland/Shaun.” This is a likely reference to Shaun Woodward, who is the secretary of state for Northern Ireland at the time.
  • June 20, 2011, titled “memo hrc Bahrain/Iran.” This is redacted because it contains information related to foreign activities.
  • June 28, 2012, titled “some intel on internal german/euro maneuvering.”
  • August 3, 2012. This email is entirely redacted except for the statement that the email contains information from “sources with access to the highest levels of the Governments and institutions.”

Twenty-two emails have been deemed “top secret,” so no details whatsoever about them have been made public. It is not known if any of them were sent by Blumenthal. (The Daily Caller, 1/30/2016) 

The New York Observer comments, “How Mr. Blumenthal, who held no US Government position after January 2001, when Bill Clinton left the White House, had access to classified information a decade after that is not explained.” Furthermore, “Since Mr. Blumenthal’s emails were illegally accessed by a private hacker [Guccifer, in March 2013], they can be safely assumed in to be in the hands of numerous foreign intelligence services.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

January 31, 2016: Clinton suggests that even her “top secret” emails should be made public.

In the wake of revelations that 22 of Clinton’s emails have been retroactively classified “top secret,” she says, “Let’s just get it out. Let’s see what it is and let the American people draw their own conclusions. […] I think it’s pretty clear [the Republicans are] grasping at straws…” (CNN, 1/31/2016)

John Schindler, a former National Security Agency (NSA) counterintelligence officer, comments that “this is pure political theater: she surely knows that the emails are not going to be released on security grounds anytime soon, probably not for several decades, at least.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

February 1, 2016: Some of Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails allegedly contain “operational intelligence” involving espionage sources and methods.

John Schindler, a former National Security Agency (NSA) counterintelligence officer, claims that, “Discussions with Intelligence Community officials have revealed that Ms. Clinton’s ‘unclassified’ emails included Holy Grail items of American espionage such as the true names of Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] intelligence officers serving overseas under cover. Worse, some of those exposed are serving under non-official cover. […] At a minimum, valuable covers have been blown, careers have been ruined, and lives have been put at serious risk.” Additionally, some names of foreigners who are on the CIA payroll are mentioned.

One unnamed senior Intelligence Community official says that because of the likelihood that foreign governments have accessed all of Clinton’s emails, “It’s a death sentence. If we’re lucky, only agents, not our officers, will get killed because of this.”

Schindler comments, “Her defense seems to be that neither she nor anybody on her staff were able to recognize that top secret information was actually top secret, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of Hillary’s qualifications to be our next commander-in-chief.” (The New York Observer, 2/1/2016)

Four days later, a NBC News article comments on the same topic with more modest claims. According to unnamed US officials, the references to undercover officers were indirect and Clinton made no comment about them.

The article adds, “Some of the references to covert intelligence officers, and other discussions of CIA drone strikes, were against classification rules and were ‘sloppy,’ one official said. But views are split on whether they were damaging to national security.” (NBC News, 2/4/2016)

February 1, 2016: A politician who saw Clinton’s top secret emails says it’s obvious they contained classified information.

Representative Mike Pompeo (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mike Pompeo (Credit: public domain)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee and has seen the unreleased 22 “top secret” Clinton emails, says, “There is no way that someone, a senior government official who has been handling classified information for a good chunk of their adult life, could not have known that this information ought to be classified, whether it was marked or not. Anyone with the capacity to read and an understanding of American national security, an 8th grade reading level or above, would understand that the release of this information or the potential breach of a non-secure system presented risk to American national security.”

He adds, “Anytime our national security team determines that there’s a potential breach, that is information that might potentially have fallen into the hands of the Iranians, or the Russians, or the Chinese, or just hackers, that they begin to operate in a manner that assumes that information has in fact gotten out.” (The Washington Post, 2/2/2016)

February 3, 2016: Clinton’s top secret emails are said to reveal sources, methods, and assets.

Representative Chris Stewart (Credit: The Salt Lake Tribune)

Representative Chris Stewart (Credit: The Salt Lake Tribune)

Representative Chris Stewart (R), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has viewed Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails, says those emails “do reveal classified methods, they do reveal classified sources, and they do reveal human assets.” He adds, “I can’t imagine how anyone could be familiar with these emails, whether they’re sending them or receiving them, and not realize that these are highly classified.” (The Washington Post, 2/4/2016

Additionally, he claims that there are seven more Clinton emails with a classification of “top secret” or higher that the government has not publicly mentioned yet. (The Washington Examiner, 2/3/2016) 

The Washington Post reports, “Other sources who have viewed the emails do not describe [them] as strongly, though one official said Clinton’s aides might have put their security clearances at risk.” (The Washington Post, 2/3/2016) 

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D), who as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee has also viewed the emails, claims that none of them originated from Clinton, were not marked as classified at the time, and do not deserve to be marked as such. (Dianne Feinstein, 1/29/2016)

In July 2016, it will be reported that there are eight chains of top secret emails instead of the previously reported seven, suggesting that Stewart was right that there are more than 22. It will also be reported by FBI Director James Comey that some of the top secret emails originated from Clinton, all of them deserved to be marked “top secret,” and all contained classified information when they were sent. (The New York Times, 7/5/2016)

February 4, 2016: Bloomberg News reveals some hints about the contents of Clinton’s 22 “top secret” emails.

Senator Richard Burr (Credit: public domain)

Senator Richard Burr (Credit: public domain)

Bloomberg News reports: “US officials who reviewed the emails tell us they contain the names of U.S. intelligence officers overseas, but not the identities of undercover spies; summaries of sensitive meetings with foreign officials; and information on classified programs like drone strikes and intelligence-collection efforts in North Korea.”

Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr, who has also read all 22 emails, also offers some hints. He says Clinton should have known to better protect the information they contain. “They are definitely sensitive. Anybody in the intelligence world would know that the content was sensitive.” (Bloomberg News, 2/4/2016)

February 4, 2016: Clinton still holds a security clearance despite her mishandling of “top secret” information.

Bloomberg News reports that there is a debate in high-level political circles over whether Clinton should be allowed to keep her security clearance or not during the FBI’s Clinton investigation. Predictably, Democrats say she should while Republicans say she shouldn’t. It was reported in late January 2016 that 22 emails on her unapproved private server contained “top secret” and even above “top secret” information. (Bloomberg News, 2/4/2016) 

In October 2015, the State Department reportedly confirmed to Senator Chuck Grassley (R) that Clinton still holds a security clearance for TS/SCI [Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information] the highest-level security clearance, and apparently nothing has changed since then. It is standard practice for high-ranking officials to retain their clearances after leaving office. (The Free Beacon, 10/7/2015)

February 5, 2016: The New York Times reveals a few more details about what Clinton’s 22 emails deemed “top secret” contain.

A Reaper drone firing its missile. (Credit: public domain)

A Reaper drone firing its missile. (Credit: public domain)

The Times reports, “It remains unknown what exactly the 22 emails contain, given their classification as ‘top secret,’ but [some US] officials described them generally, on the condition of anonymity. The officials included people familiar with or involved in the handling of the emails in government agencies and in Congress.”

  • Officials from US intelligence agencies have battled with State Department officials over what should be considered classified in Clinton’s emails, with the intelligence agencies arguing for more classification and the State Department arguing for less. But in the case of Clinton’s 22 top secret emails, even the State Department agreed that all 22 should be deemed top secret or even above top secret.
  • The emails comprise seven distinct email chains, and most of those chains involve discussions of the CIA drone program. The Obama administration has generally considered the program highly classified, even though details of it have been widely reported. However, some Clinton’s emails contain unredacted mentions of the drone program, so it is the discussion of certain details of the drone program that merit a top secret classification. For instance, some of the top secret emails include an email discussion relating to an unnamed New York Times article that “contained sensitive information about the intelligence surrounding the CIA’s drone activities, particularly in Pakistan.”
  • At least one of the email chains was started by Richard Holbrooke, “who as the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan would have been intimately involved in dealing with the ramifications of drone strikes.” He died in December 2010.
  • “Some of the emails” include information deemed “top secret/SAP,” which means “special access programs.” The Times calls these programs “among the government’s most closely guarded secrets.”
  • “At least one of the emails contain[s] oblique references to CIA operatives.” One email has been given a designation of “HCS-O,” which indicates the information came from human intelligence sources. However, officials say that “none of the emails mention specific names of CIA officers or the spy agency’s sources.” (The New York Times, 2/5/2016)

February 10, 2016: As many as 30 different people were included in the 22 known “top secret” messages sent to Clinton.

Clinton (left) and Jake Sullivan (right) (Credit: The Associated Press)

Clinton (left) and Jake Sullivan (right) (Credit: The Associated Press)

An unnamed US official claims that top Clinton aides including Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, Philippe Reines, Jake Sullivan, and Patrick Kennedy were CCed on at least some of those emails. (The Hill, 2/10/2016) 

Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top national security and foreign policy staffer, sent 215 classified emails to Clinton, more than anyone else. (The Washington Post, 3/5/2016He is said to be the author of at least one of the emails sent to Clinton that was later deemed “top secret,” and he may be responsible for others.

Politico reports, “Sullivan both initiated email conversations and also forwarded along messages with sensitive information, and he sometimes added additional content on the email chains in question, according to [our] sources.” As a result, Sullivan could face extra scrutiny from FBI investigators.

Another source says about three of Clinton’s top aides sent her highly classified material. (Politico, 2/10/2016)

February 27, 2016: Jake Sullivan is interviewed by the FBI; he claims he never felt any unease about the many above top secret emails he sent to Clinton.

Clinton and Sullivan have a discussion during the Benghazi Committee hearing on October 22, 2015. (Credit: Saul Loeb / Agence France Presse/ Getty Images)

Clinton and Sullivan have a discussion during the House Benghazi Committee hearing on October 22, 2015. (Credit: Saul Loeb / Agence France Presse/ Getty Images)

When Clinton was secretary of state, Sullivan first served as her deputy chief of staff for policy and then as the director of policy planning. The interview will remain secret until it’s mentioned in a September 2016 FBI report.

The FBI determined that seven email chains containing 22 emails were sent by Sullivan to Clinton were later deemed classified at the “top secret/Special Access Program” (TP/SAP) level, which is above “top secret.”

As a result, much of the interview regards these emails. The FBI asks Sullivan to review about 14 emails he sent or received “on unclassified systems” that were later determined to contain classified information up to the TS/SAP level.

Sullivan gives some reasons why the emails may have been sent on Clinton’s unclassified server. According to the FBI, “With respect to the SAP, Sullivan stated that it was discussed on unclassified systems due to the operational tempo at that time, and State [Department] employees attempted to talk around classified information. Sullivan also indicated that, for some of the emails, information about the incidents described therein may have already appeared in news reports. … Sullivan did not recall any instances in which he felt uneasy about information conveyed on unclassified systems, nor any instances in which others expressed concerns about the handling of classified information at State.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/2/2016)

Sullivan will also give his explanation of an email in which he wanted to send her a secure fax, but the fax machine wasn’t working and she told him to “send nonsecure.”

February 29, 2016: Final totals show over 2,000 of Clinton’s emails contained classified information.

The last batch of Clinton’s private emails are publicly released. Out of the 30,490 emails, 22 are deemed “top secret,” which is the highest level of classification. 65 are deemed “secret,” the middle level. 2,028 are “confidential,” the lowest level. That means that 2,115 emails, or seven percent of the total, have some classified ranking. 104 of the classified emails were sent by Clinton herself.

It has been reported that Clinton gave the State Department 30,490 emails, and 30,068 of these were ultimately released. Of the remaining 422 emails, 19 are emails between Clinton and President Obama that have not been released, and one more email withheld because it is part of a continuing investigation. It is not known why the remaining 402 have not been released. (The New York Times, 2/29/2016

However, it has been reported that some emails were returned to Clinton after a determination they were not work-related, so that could explain the discrepancy. (Politico, 9/4/2015)